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MMEDIA 2G03 Introduction To Digital Audio

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. David Ogborn

Email: ogbornd@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 306

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 27603


Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:30-2:30 PM (TSH-306) and by appointment

Course Objectives:

Introduction to techniques in sound recording and digital audio editing, focusing on uses of audio in Multimedia projects. Readings, presentations and discussions will support the creation and critique of digital audio. We will acquire heightened skills in the perception and description of sonic phenomena, learn software approaches to recording and transforming audio for communicative purposes, and gain fluency with diverse historical and contemporary sound art traditions.

In support of these learning goals, we will create two smaller, specific, audio miniatures (phonography and radioplay) as well as a sound art term project (from a range of possible formats), with the possibility to present the term project in a concert/festival setting. Readings, from an instructor-created free online textbook and from audio research literature, will help develop our vocabulary for sound phenomena and technologies, and also increase our awareness of the diverse fields, contexts and applications of contemporary audio production. Online reading quizzes help prepare for a detailed, final theoretical exam, while post-tutorial quizzes ask students to reflect on hands-on activities completed during tutorials, helping prepare for the sound art term project.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Course materials: Students are required to own a studio-grade pair of headphones (circumaural, closed design, without any active noise cancellation) and a large, fast portable hard drive. These will be used not only for this course but also for numerous other courses in the Multimedia program.

Required Texts: The instructor has created a detailed, freely-available online textbook. All other required readings will either be available through Avenue To Learn or are already freely available on the open, legal web or through the McMaster Library’s collection of electronic journals. Since there are no texts to purchase for this course, students are strongly encouraged to make a significant investment in studio-grade headphones instead. Additional reading and listening materials in support of class topics may be made available through Avenue-To-Learn as the course progresses.

Software: Students will use a variety of software, including Reaper, Sonic Visualiser, Max and SuperCollider. Ownership of this software is not required as it can all be used in the audio section of the Multimedia wing (TSH-202B). However, Sonic Visualiser and SuperCollider are both free and open-source software, readily available for multiple operating systems, and a permanent license for Reaper is highly affordable.

Method of Assessment:


  • 20% Participation, Engagement, and Reflection
  • 20% Sound Art Miniature #1: Phonography (due Wed 4 October)
  • 20% Sound Art Miniature #2: Radioplay (due Wed 8 November)
  • 20% Sound Art Term Project (draft due Wed 29 November, final version due Fri 8 December)
  • 20% Final Exam (to be scheduled during examination period)

(100% Total)

Participation, Engagement, Reflection:

The mark for this component of the course is earned by attending lectures and tutorials, submitting tutorial results (when required), and completing reading quizzes, reflections and ear-training activities. One point is potentially available upon completion of each activity, and the final mark out of 20 is formed by dividing the points earned by the maximum possible number of points, then multiplying by 20. It may occasionally be necessary to award a half-point for an activity when major improvements (for example, to demonstrated effort, to following instructions, etc) are necessary. Generally, however, the full point (1/1) will be awarded for engaged completion of a given activity. The instructor, in their sole discretion, may choose to award extra points in cases of consistently strong contributions to the learning environment. Some further notes about specific types of activity follow:

  1. Attendance: Attendance in lectures and tutorials will be polled and points awarded at random times. Not every lecture or tutorial will necessarily involve a poll for attendance (although many will). That being said, attendance is a basic expectation of the class. While some course material will be covered in multiple formats (lecture, tutorial, online textbook), other course material may only be handled in a tutorial, or only in a lecture, or only online.

  2. Tutorial Activities: Each tutorial sessions involves being guided through one or more practical tasks in audio production, as well as one or more perceptual experiments (“ear training”) with sound. At the end of the tutorial, you’ll be asked to answer some questions, in comprehensible prose, reflecting on what is learned through these experiences. You are strongly encouraged to use these quizzes as preparation for the conceptualization and framing of your term project in the course. In some tutorials, you may also be asked to submit (and receive additional points for) audio materials you have produced, or provide evidence of the completion of ear-training exercises. After Friday of the week in which a tutorial takes place, all of these tutorial activities will no longer be eligible for credit, without exception. Please note also that while many tutorial activities can be begun in the tutorial session and completed later in the week, this is not necessarily true for all tutorial activities, some of which can only be completed in person during your assigned tutorial session.

  3. Reading: A series of carefully chosen reading assignments, both from the free textbook created by the instructor, and from audio research literature, runs through the course. After and for each of these reading items, you will complete a short reading quiz that may either take the form of a set of multiple choice questions (with detailed feedback and the ability to redo the quizzes until the deadline passes) or require a short prose answer (generally of a reflective or meta-cognitive nature). You are strongly encouraged to use the readings and associated quizzes as preparation for the course’ final project and final exam.

Sound Art Miniatures and Term Project: Detailed descriptions of the three creative projects (two miniatures and term project) will be posted to Avenue-to-Learn, together with the rubrics used to determine grades. All creative projects are to be handed in electronically through Avenue-to-Learn. You are strongly encouraged to begin working on projects well in advance of their due dates.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late policy: Late work will be subject to a penalty of 5% per day (or partial day) of the week (including weekends). Extensions for late work will be granted only upon the recommendation of a student's home faculty – please take such requests directly to your home faculty's office.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Week One: Modes of Listening; Sound as Signal

  • Lecture (Tue 5 Sept)
  • Reading: textbook chapters 1 & 2 "Sound as Phenomenon" "Sound as Signal"
  • Tutorial (Mon 11 Sept): Introduction to the digital audio workstation (DAW)
  • Ear-Training: Threshold of silence

Week Two: Recording I: Headroom, Gain, Clipping

  • Lecture (Tue 12 Sept)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 3 "Frequency, Spectrum, Filters"
  • Reading: Alexa Woloshyn (2013). "Playing with the Voice and Blurring Boundaries in Hildegard Westerkamp’s “MotherVoiceTalk””. eContact! 14:4
  • http://econtact.ca/14_4/woloshyn_westerkamp.html
  • Tutorial (Mon 18 Sept): Introduction to field recorders
  • Ear-Training: Harmonic distortion (clipping)

Week Three: Synthesis I: Oscillators, Filters and the Spectrum

  • Lecture (Tue 19 Sept) *** in the new black box theatre, L.R. Wilson Hall ***
  • Reading: textbook chapter 4 "Digital Audio and Sampling Theory"
  • Reading: Richard Scott (2016). "Back to the Future: On misunderstanding modular synthesizers.” eContact! 17:4
  • http://econtact.ca/17_4/scott_misunderstanding.html
  • Tutorial (Mon 25 Sept): Introduction to SuperCollider; Filters in the DAW
  • Ear-Training: Gain

Week Four: Delivery I: Sampling Theory; Mixing/Delivery of Audio Projects

  • Lecture (Tue 26 Sept)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 5 "Microphones and Noise Strategies"
  • Reading: Erin Gee (2010). "Other Voices, Other Bodies.” eContact! 12:3
  • http://econtact.ca/12_3/gee_voices.html
  • Tutorial (Mon 2 Oct): Long fades and normalization
  • Ear-Training: Boost/cut of spectrum (five band version)

Sound Art Miniature #1 (phonography) due Wednesday 4 Oct

Week Five: Recording II: Microphones, Noise, and the Studio

  • Lecture (Tue 3 Oct)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 7 "Reverberation"
  • Reading: Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter (2007). “Aural Arts and Musical Spaces.” ch. 4 in Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? pp. 127-61. MIT Press.
  • Tutorial (Mon 16 Oct): Noise Strategies (when the damage has already been done)
  • Ear-Training: Addition of white noise

Week Six: Aural Architecture and Reverberation

  • Lecture (Tue 17 Oct)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 6 "Dynamic Range"
  • Reading: textbook chapter 10 "Delivery Formats, Dither and Data Compression"
  • Tutorial (Mon 23 Oct): Reverberation
  • Ear-Training: RT60 times

Week Seven: Delivery II: Dynamic Range, Dither, Data Compression

  • Lecture (Tue 24 Oct)
  • Reading: Karen Collins (2009). “An Introduction to Procedural Music in Video Games.” Contemporary Music Review 28:1, pp. 5-15.
  • Reading: Eldad Tsabary (2007). “A Survey of Audio Coders for Electronic-Art Music.” eContact! 9:4. http://econtact.ca/9_4/tsabary.html
  • Tutorial (Mon 30 Oct): Compression and Gentle Finalization
  • Ear-Training: Compressed vs Uncompressed

Week Eight: Synthesis II: Envelopes and Modulation

  • Lecture (Tue 31 Oct)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 9 "Stereo Theory & Practice"
  • Tutorial (Mon 6 Nov): Envelopes and Modulation

Sound Art Miniature #2 (radioplay) due Wednesday 8 Nov

Week Nine: Recording III: Stereo Theory and Technique

  • Lecture (Tue 7 Nov)
  • Reading: textbook chapter 8 "Time and Frequency Transformations"
  • Reading: Margaret Schedel and Alison Rootberg (2009). “Generative Techniques in Hypermedia Performance.” Contemporary Music Review 28:1, pp. 57-73.
  • Tutorial (Mon 13 Nov): Automation and Panning
  • Ear-Training: Panned Left vs Right vs Centre

Week Ten: Synthesis III: Time-Stretching, Microsound, Cross-Synthesis

  • Lecture (Tue 14 Nov)
  • Reading: Michel Chion (1990). “The Audiovisual Scene” ch. 4 in Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. trans. Claudia Gorbman. pp. 66-94. Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • Tutorial (Mon 20 Nov): Microsound and Cross-Synthesis

Week Eleven: Delivery III: Diffusion, Stems, Mastering

  • Lecture (Tue 21 Nov) *** in the new black box theatre, L.R. Wilson Hall ***
  • Reading: Tara Rodgers (2015). “Cultivating Activist Lives in Sound.” Leonardo Music Journal 25, pp. 79-83.
  • Tutorial: work and consultation on sound art project

Week Twelve: Diffusion of term projects in black box theatre

  • Lecture (Tue 28 Nov) *** in the new black box theatre, L.R. Wilson Hall ***
  • Complete first draft of Sound Art Term project due Wed 29 Nov
  • Imaginary Landscapes 2017, a festival of sound art and electronic music, will take place from Wed 29 Nov until Sat 2 Dec. Students are strongly encouraged to present/diffuse term projects from this class during the Imaginary Landscapes concerts, and to attend and support other Imaginary Landscapes artists

(Note: No lecture Tuesday 5 Dec, immediately following the Imaginary Landscapes events)

Final revised version of Sound Art Term Project due Friday 8 December

Final examination, administered by the examinations office, during the examination period

Other Course Information:

Open Studio: All students in audio courses are welcome to drop in to the Multimedia program’s surround sound studio (TSH-208) during the optional Open Studio hours each week (times to be determined, subject to change, and shared in Avenue discussion forums). During the Open Studio hours the instructor and/or teaching assistant will be there to help with any technical or creative questions that come up, and we’ll also experiment with sound together.

Basic Needs Security: Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to notify the instructor, if they are comfortable in doing so. This will enable him to provide any resources that he may possess.